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Mountains, Mongrels and Motorhomes Part Three: Hilda

Update 4: Goodbye Austria

AUSTRIA | Monday, 31 October 2016 | Views [304]

21.   Paznaun Valley, Austria (22nd – 23rd August):

The only other thing of note that we did in Ischgl since the last update was a walk from the van to the small lake Bergli. Rachel had had her eye on it since we arrived but it involved a sustained steep climb and decent so she was worried about being able to make it but the morning of 23rd August was bright and fresh so we went for it. In youth terms she 'smashed it' and the lake, which is often used in publicity photographs, was worth the effort.


22.   St. Anton, Austria (24th August – 5th September):

Having done pretty much all we wanted to do in Ischgl we headed off down the valley and then up into the Arlberg valley to St. Anton which is a ski resort that I have been to previously but was not that taken with at the time. Anyway, en route Rachel spotted a mountain hut in a stunning location high above the valley and commented on how great it would be to stay there. When we got to St. Anton, we had a mooch around the town then found ourselves a nice campsite and a plot by a mountain stream (ideal for the Hilda whom, by now, was refusing tap water and drinking only from fresh sources). The following day we did a much longer than expected circular walk from the village of St. Christoph to the Kaltenberg Hut.

The 26th August was our 'anniversary' (not of our wedding but of our first date when Rachel crashed my new motorbike) but the weather was fantastic so I decided to do the Alberger Via Ferrata which is reputed to be the longest sport via ferrata in the Alps as well as the one of the most pretty and most difficult (although I have been to so many ski resorts claiming to have the longest/steepest/hardest/baddest black run in the Alps that I take such claims with a pinch of salt). To be honest though, I underestimated it somewhat and left relatively late in the morning so, by the time I had caught the two lifts and walked in I knew that I would be pushing it to make the last lift back down. It turned out that the route was indeed very long with three kilometres of cable and quite tricky in places but my biggest problem was that I had forgotten my gloves. After just half an hour of climbing I had managed to acquire seven blisters on my computer soft hands and, when one ripped open and left a large chunk of skin attached to the cable, I knew that I was in for a painful experience. On the summit of the first peak, I dug out my first aid kit and taped up my rather raw hands and resolved to use the cable as little as possible. One of the downsides to climbing on your own is that, in the absence of a distraction, you tend to focus on the pain so the remaining four hours of climbing were not the most pleasant but all was well with the world when I arrived at the lift back down to find that, although it actually closed fifteen minutes earlier than advertised, I had made it - albeit more by luck than judgement - with less than two minutes to spare. I had overtaken several groups on the route and I was relieved that I did not have the two thousand metres of decent that they were now going have to do at the end of their long climb. To make things even sweeter, I even got a “hello” and a smile from a group of Hasidic Jews coming up the lift in the opposite direction which was very much out of character from my previous experience and led me to assume that their outburst of friendliness was a consequence of also having made the very last lift and thereby extracting the absolute maximum possible value from their lift pass.

We spent the next week or so doing small walks, the odd run, shopping for new boots for me and taking trips on the lifts to use our passes (basically anything that didn’t involve me using my hands as I had accumulated fifteen blisters in total some of which turned out to have blisters underneath the blisters). From our campsite we could see the same hut that Rachel had spied from the drive in and during the course of our stay, its’ appeal to her seemed to grow stronger. We had assumed that the huts would not take dogs overnight but, upon enquiry, we found that they did and, to our amazement also learned that having a dog in tow entitled you to a private room – I wasn’t aware that such things even existed. So we bit the bullet and planned a three-day walk overnighting in two huts with the latter being the one we could see. The walk was a two-day section of the thirty three stage Eagle’s Trail (the whole of which involves a mere thirty one thousand metres of ascent and is four hundred and thirteen kilometres long) with the second day being a technically difficult and exposed outing so we packed the rope and some climbing kit to be on the safe side.

The morning of 2nd September was a fantastic clear day but I departed in a foul mood primarily because my rucksack was so heavy I could hardly lift it which will teach me to pack after a beer (I think that the alcohol gave me a slightly exaggerated view of my own strength). Anyway, we caught the bus and then two lifts and set off walking. In fairness, my mood lightened as I got used to the weight of the pack and the weather and the views were perfect. We stopped at the Leutkircher Hut for a hot chocolate and then pressed on to the Kaiserjoch Hut where we would be staying. On arrival we were shown our private room - which turned out to be more of a mouse hole being only two foot high at one end with a sloping roof rising to a positively roomy five foot at the other - but at least it was just the three of us and I calculated that the toilet was only serving fifteen people which, in comparison to some huts, made that almost private too. We were both feeling great, the walk had been lovely, the weather beautiful, I had not collapsed under the weight of my pack and the hut was friendly and cosy. We had arrived earlier than expected so I made the most of the fine day to climb two nearly by peaks (the Griesskopf at 2,581m and the Malatschkopf at 2,368m) which turned out to be an extremely weird experience because, without the weight of the pack, the sensation of walking uphill was akin to someone pushing me from behind – indeed the ascent felt so easy that I had to concentrate to stop myself from overbalancing. When I got back, Rachel was on the terrace and told me that she had spoken to one lady who said that the route the following day was not suitable for dogs and one chap who had tried the route but turned around because it was too dangerous. She was clearly having second thoughts but we were soon joined by a German couple, Manfred and Maike, and got chatting. The beer went down very well and Manfred (who turned out to be a full-on, bona fide, commune dwelling, money sharing, long haired hippy) and Maike were great company. When it got too cold to sit on the terrace we moved inside and found a cosy corner and continued chatting. I am not sure how much we had had to drink by the time we went to bed but it was a lot and the result was that the four of us would do the walk together the next day.

The next day turned out to be another beautiful mountain day but the hangovers were significant and Rachel was very nervous at the prospect of what was to come. Nonetheless, we set off and a combination of not wanting to bail out in front of an audience and lots of support and guidance from Manfred got Rachel past the first few exposed gullies. I don’t think that the walk could ever be described as relaxing as, for the most part, the path was traversing steep mountain side or crossing dangerous gullies but Rachel (and Hilda) made a sterling job and when we passed the last technical section we all had a lie down in the afternoon sunshine. After a short nap, we made the final pull up to the Ansbacher Hut and had a drink on the terrace. In the next ten minutes a somewhat tired Rachel managed to drop Hilda’s lead which resulted in a public telling off from the hut owner who was afraid that Hilda would attack their enormous free-roaming pet rabbit (for the record, in a fight between that rabbit and Hilda, Hilda would have had no chance) and then nearly broke both ankles trying to walk in the clogs that were the alternate footwear of choice when in the hut (clog induced injuries being somewhat ironic after the potential hazards of the walk). Shortly after our evening meal, we were treated to a stunning sunset which the location of the hut allowed people to experience to full effect. Rachel went to bed (this time our room was a relatively spacious affair with a window and views across the valley) and I stayed up chatting with Maike and Manfred.

The following day we said our goodbyes to Manfred and Maike (we will be seeing them again – although they both claim that the commune is not what it used to be so I will not be breaking out the kaftan for a while) and set off downhill. We skipped breakfast at the Ansbacher Hut as we knew that we would pass the Fritz Hut en route where we had eaten frankfurters and chips on a previous walk so we did the same again. The weather was again perfect with crisp feel to the air and a deep blue sky and by lunchtime we were back at the campsite where Hilda was met by two of her dog mates who had been waiting for her to return. After a manic session of chase involving lots of jumping into the stream she had to call it a day (this is the first time that I have seen Hilda actually give up) and Rachel and I treated ourselves to pizza for tea.

The following day we awoke to snow in the hills which was forecasted but still came as a surprise and we could see the Ansbacher Hut (with Manfred and Maike still staying there) now nestled in a winter setting. It was 5th September, the lifts had closed and we needed the heating on at night for the first time so we decided to extend the summer for as long as possible and head to the Italian lakes for some sun and well earned rest after our the summer in the hills.

Tags: alps, climbing, dogs, hilda, motorhomes, mountaineering, mountains, rachel, simon, walking

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Rachel, Hilda and I on the summit of the Reidkopf

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